Review – Thor: Ragnarok

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The Thor series has always felt a little out of step with the rest of the Avengers franchise. While the Iron Man and Captain America movies have always tied directly into the Avengers storyline (to the point where the third Captain America movie was essentially Avengers 2.5) the Thor movies never had a strong of a connection to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Thor would show up for the major Avengers events before jetting back of to worry about Asgard and the nine realms. Which means that going into it, this third Thor movie felt a lot more like an optional bonus to tide you over until next year’s Avengers movie rather than required viewing for the franchise. And while it’s still removed enough to technically be optional viewing, it’s good enough to be highly, highly recommended viewing.

At the end of Thor: The Dark World, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), disguised as Odin is ruling Asgard after having faked his death. This plotline is is cleared up in a manner of seconds as Thor (Chris Hemsworth) immediately realizes that Oden isn’t really Oden, and forces Loki to fess up. Thor isn’t even all that upset about his previously dead brother being found alive more or less attributing the whole thing to “Loki shenanigans.” The story kicks into high gear when a previously unmentioned third sibling, Hela the goddess of death, returns and takes over Asgard. Thor is banished to Sakaar, a scrap pile of a planet which is run by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) where much of the culture revolves around a gladiator style fighting competition.

Upon his arrival on Sakaar, Thor is captured at once by a Scrapper who goes by the call number 142. Thor is brought before the Grandmaster and designated as a contender for the gladiator games against the Grandmaster’s champion. (The movie plays this up to be a big reveal, though if you’ve seen any trailer for this movie you’ll know instantly who the champion is going to be.) Slowly Thor begins to build up a team of people, including Loki, and Scrapper 142 who turns out to be Valkarie  to return to save the people of Asgard and once again banish Hela from the throne.

While previous Marvel movies would be considered lighthearted action movies or perhaps action/comedies, Thor: Ragnarok presents itself as a full blown comedy. If there is an opportunity for a joke Thor: Ragnarok takes it, sometimes bending the plot over backwards for a chance to make an extra joke or two. That’s not to say that the humor is unwelcome, it’s tremendously funny, and the jokes rarely miss. Director Taika Waititi, who is best known for his New Zealand comedies such as What We Do In The Shadows and Hunt for The Wilderpeople has been given a great deal of freedom with the tone and style of the movie. His brand of humor is all over this one from the dialogue to the pratfalls, to some of the major plot points.

This may be the biggest tonal shift for any Marvel property to date, While the previous Thor movies weren’t exactly gloomy or overly serious, this one cranks the silliness up to eleven. It feels like Thor: Ragnarok is almost ashamed of the previous Thor movies as it goes out of it’s way to distance itself from the two previous entries. Thor’s Hammer and trademark long hair are gone within the first act. Thor’s previous romantic interest, Jane Foster, is completely absent from this movie with only two lines of dialogue mentioning her to state that she and Thor broke up. Other Thor characters such as Erik Selvig and Darcy are completely absent from the movie entirely without even a mention of them. The Warriors Three do make an appearance but it’s so brief that it would be understandable if you left the theater wondering why they didn’t show up either.

Thor: Ragnarok is very much about doing it’s own thing. Visually, it’s a vibrant and colorful change from the palette of earlier Marvel movies. Tonally, it doesn’t concern itself with feeling like a traditional Marvel movie. The characters, the plot, the stakes, this movie is a Waititi movie through and through, with the fact that it’s a part of this giant overarching Marvel universe seemingly an afterthought rather than the driving force of the movie. And because it’s a Thor movie, that works. Because Thor has always been the “also here” of the big three Avengers, the investment in the Thor stories isn’t the same as it is for other Marvel movies. Thor: Ragnarok gets away with going off the well beaten path that served Marvel so well up to this point. It’s a risk, but one that pays off. If this ends up being the final Thor standalone movie, it’s good to see one that makes a stand for itself, instead of another, inoffensive safe movie to kill time until we can get to the next movie that “counts.”

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